You may know him as the host of Idiotest on GSN, but comedian Ben Gleib is about to break it down for you in his debut one-hour stand-up special Neurotic Gangster, airing this Friday on Showtime. In addition to Idiotest, Gleib previously was one of the stars and writers of Chelsea Lately, all the while honing and crafting his standup skills leading up to his first ever television special before a sold-out audience at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, CA.
I had a chance to talk with Ben during a promotion and media-heavy week for him leading up to the debut of Neurotic Gangster, and you can check out the highlights below:
So the special is titled Neurotic Gangster. Can you tell us what that means for our readers that might not be familiar with your work?
Ben Gleib: I just realized over the years that’s who I am really. I’m a Gemini and the two sides of my personality are not good and evil – they’re neurotic and gangster. I’m somebody who over thinks and worries sometimes about a lot of little details, but I also let go and do whatever it takes to get things done. I party hard and I enjoy real hard as well. I even just dropped a rap track. So I’m probably pretty close to each parts, but probably tilting 10% more to the neurotic side.
I’m sorry, did you just say dropped a rap track?
Ben Gleib: That’s right, I have a rap group. I’ve been rapping for a long time. But I just dropped a rap track with my new group called “Bens.” You can check us out at soundcloud.com/bensbensbens.
That’s awesome. How did you get involved in that? Did you always just enjoy performing in that respect?
Ben Gleib: Yeah, Hip-Hop. I’ve always been drawn to it. The honesty of it. I love that you get to be gangster in that way and you get to express your ego without having to talk around what you really want to say. I enjoy that rawness of it. Stand-up is really the only thing that compares to it where you can speak your raw honest thoughts.
Do you get noticed as the Idiotest host, and are people surprised by the more raw aspect of your career, like your music or stand-up?
Ben Gleib: I’m sure it is surprising to some people, but I don’t really get censored much as the host of Idiotest. It’s one of the great things about working at GSN. They’re very laid back and very open to me being me on the show. So the show even gets a little dirty at times, but I still think people don’t really know how to process it. I don’t think they’re used to a game show host being a stand-up comedian first.
Steve Harvey [on the Family Feud]is helping change that, but he doesn’t do a ton of stand-up anymore and stand-up is still my first passion and my main identity. I love that I can finally show what I can do to a mass audience on that stand-up stage, and make people aware that I’m a stand-up first, and always touring, and probably coming to your city soon.
I’m on perpetual tour. I think most people think, “Oh, once you get a TV show you’re just resting on laurels.” and maybe a lot of people would. But just in the next three months I”m coming to Chicago, St. Louis, San Antonio, and Minneapolis. So I’m always hitting the road.
So is this special the culmination of a long time on the road honing your set? In essence, what does this special mean to you and your career?
Ben Gleib: It’s huge for me. It really is what you just said. I’ve been doing stand-up for sixteen years and before that I had a late night comedy TV show in college for four years. I even began to dabble in stand-up during that time, so if you count it – I’ve been doing stand-up for twenty years. It’s been a long time in the oven, this thing, so I was very excited to get a chance to put this hour together and bring it to everybody. I’m pretty excited. I was a little neurotic in the setup and maybe the course of the sixteen years, but when I hit that stage – gangster takes over.
There are some jokes in the special about Instagram, texting etc. With all this modern technology, how has it changed the course of your career, since getting your name out there was very different now compared to when you started?
Ben Gleib: Oh yeah, with the advent of MySpace we were suddenly expected to be in touch with every fan and spreading the word individually, making sure you were a one-man corporation/branding company/marketing company/grass-roots organization all in one.
I like that because I’ve always had a neurotic business side, and I enjoy the nerdy side of building your company however you want to build it and be in charge of every detail of how you are being presented. It’s quite a lot more time-consuming, for sure. Without the guidance and funding of a big company or board of directors you’re sort trying to figure out how to get the word out in a very over-saturated market.
Recently I decided to do, based on my friend who is a tech CEO, I posted on my Facebook fan page that if people shared the trailer to the special – I want to get the word out there so badly, I’ve waited so long to get this special – that I will send them a personalized message to their Facebook through private messaging. So I’ve been making videos constantly and I’m about 75 videos behind right now. After I’m done doing press today I’m going to be up late trying to make each one a unique little comedy sketch or comedic video.
So it’s taking quite some time, but that’s the kind of grass-roots approach I think that people will really appreciate. Hopefully they’ll tune in and it might make a difference.
You tell some jokes in Neurotic Gangster about your family. They’re very endearing and funny, but are personal stories like that something you’re comfortable with telling as a stand-up?
Ben Gleib: It does feel very weird. I’m very close to my family. I live very close to my parents. I’m very close to my brother and sister-in-law and nephew as well. I love that I’m one of the few lucky comedians that has their family near by. A lot of my friends had to move here from across the country to pursue this career, but I luckily have my family in L.A. because I’m from here.
It’s an amazing support system and they’ve always supported me since day one. My parents never questioned my career choice, never tried to dissuade me from doing it and I’m so grateful for that, but I don’t love telling personal stories in general. I don’t not like it, but it’s not been my comedy style. Typically I’ve been more of an observational comedian, somebody talking about the society we live in and the little details of life around us or the things we all directly relate to, instead of one story that I personally experienced.
But I’m coming to terms more with the realization that that experience is sort of global because we all have similar patterns and experiences, and if I can share more vulnerable stories that people relate to then I can connect in a more visceral way. So I’m starting to do more of that.
One of the best moments of the special is when you interact with the first row of the audience. Do you do any pre-work on the audience and scope them out or do you just go in the moment?
Ben Gleib: Oh no, it’s 100% in the moment. It’s my favorite part of doing stand-up – just doing that crowd work. Live on the road sometimes I’ll improvise my entire hour. I got my start in improv and I pride myself in making my crowd work as fresh and as brand new as possible.
I love having brand new moments, even people having the same jobs over the years, same hobbies, I try to have unique new ways in the moment to interact with them. Unique and original and things they haven’t seen before really. I’ve been doing crowd work for sixteen years and I’m so happy to say rarely have there been repetitive moments for me.
Lately in the last couple months for some reason I’ve been hitting too many of the same moments and that’s no fun. Maybe there’s only sixteen years of new people out there. So I’ll keep doing it for a bit, but it starts to get repetitive I’ll probably shift and focus more on only scripted material. But for the time being, I’m just making it up as I go along and loving it.
Ben Gleib’s one hour stand-up special Neurotic Gangster debuts on Friday, June 3rd at 10pm ET, exclusively on Showtime.